12.05.2014 by Charles Burns
There seems to be some ambiguity over the silhouette speed-cutting world record. The main item on our 2014 US agenda was a trip to Houston to meet the world’s fastest silhouette artist: Cindi Harwood Rose. Her record stands at 144 silhouettes cut in one hour. Our film, Silhouette Secrets, is to end with the speed-cutting duel we fought in Houston. There’s only one problem: nobody seems to know the result!
Filming for ‘Silhouette Secrets’ is now almost complete, Andi and I returned from our crowd-funded shoot in the USA just over a month ago. Here’s the dilemma: we need to cut the film in a way that makes sense. The world record challenge is such a fundamental part of this. Without a result we don’t really know how the film will end, so what are we to do?
When we arrived in Houston Cindi arranged for a charity speed-cutting contest, to set the world silhouette cutting world record, at a local Audi showroom in Houston. Alarmingly called “Off With Your Head!”, the rules of the contest were fairly simple. We each had a table to work at and an assistant to help us mount the silhouettes and hand them out. My daughter Taz (herself a promising silhouettist) flew with us to Houston to act as my assistant. Cindi’s reality-TV-star daughter Erica Rose flew in from LA to MC the event. Guests at the event collected pink and blue tickets. They were asked to drop blue tickets into a bowl on my table and pink ones into a bowl on Cindi’s. At the end of the evening the tickets would be counted to determine the outcome.
There were a number of craft stalls (including a paper cutter and an origami artist), a silhouette historian, a food buffet and a bar at the event. Some 200 guests and a contingent of local press arrived. On my table I had a pile of printed cards – bearing the logo of Cindi’s cancer charity for whom the event was being staged – and my usual squares of black and white paper blanks. I had previously stamped each blank with consecutive numbers to tell me how fast I was cutting and whether I was on track to beat the record.
Cindi and I took our positions and a large queue immediately formed at both tables. The contest got off to a shaky start for me, as Erica announced:
This caused me to hesitate for a vital few seconds, slightly confused. Should I start cutting? Does ‘One’ in Houston mean ’Go’?
Once over this unpromising start I soon warmed to the task in hand and began to enjoy myself. It was a luxury to be assisted by Taz and to have an MC directing the traffic. I even found time to laugh and joke with a few of the guests – who all did exactly as they had been told: standing on the ‘X’ and looking straight ahead.
Twenty minutes – and some 50 silhouettes – later the pressure began to tell and I found it harder to keep up the relentless pace. My mouth became dry and the scissors began to feel heavy as lead. Mark, the cameraman, asked me to speak a few words about how I was feeling but my reply was sadly incoherent. Taz helped by feeding me sips of water as I cut. After a while the feeling passed and I entered a kind of ‘second wind’.
The final twenty minutes were a real joy. I found myself cutting faster than I’ve ever cut before, my hands began to feel better and my numbers indicated I was on track to achieve my target. To say the silhouettes were flying off the scissors is perhaps an exaggeration but as I passed the one-hundred mark that is really how I felt.
The end of the contest brought a brief period of excitement as my silhouette numbers indicated I had broken the record! Taz and I counted 149 silhouettes in my pile. Rather embarrassingly I even sent out an ill-advised tweet or two to this effect! This had to be hurriedly retracted some time later when the official ticket count became available. Andi, with typical humour, posted a Facebook update asking “Will we get out of Texas alive?”.
The official result, based on the blue and pink tickets, was slightly disappointing as it seems neither Cindi or I equalled her existing record, although we both came very close. The final ticket count was 141 to Cindi and 139 to me, leaving Cindi’s 30-year-old record untouched. How did this happen? Where did my missing 10 tickets go? Speculation abounds, but in the end I agreed to let the record stand.
Although I didn’t officially beat the silhouette cutting world record I came to understand how it is possible to cut such huge numbers, and how I might go about beating this record in future. I had to remind myself that the result was less important than filming the event, which was a huge success and will make an interesting end sequence in ’Silhouette Secrets’. I came away with an increased interest in speed-cutting: it’s almost a separate art in itself. I’m looking for ways to use this unlikely and potentially-record-breaking skill in the future.